Camp Noah Children Learn They ARE Stronger Than the Storm
LSM/NJ, Congregational Partners, Sponsored Healing Programs in Toms River and Surf City
BURLINGTON, NJ—Over 90 first- through sixth-graders affected by superstorm Sandy joined together to process their disaster experiences in the safe, caring, and fun environment of “Camp Noah,” held at two New Jersey locations in Toms River and Surf City from July 22-26. Lutheran Social Ministries of New Jersey (LSM/NJ), in partnership with Lutheran Social Services (LSS) of Minnesota and support from host churches, sponsored the free, weeklong day camp program as part of LSM/NJ’s continuing disaster response services.
Camp Noah Facilitates Healing, Builds Resiliency
Camp Noah is a nationally-recognized program for elementary-age children developed by LSS of Minnesota in 1997 in response to massive flooding in the Red River Valley. LSS Minnesota recruits, screens, and trains outside volunteers to serve as teaching staff. Working with a curriculum based on the biblical survival story of Noah, teachers facilitate healing and build resiliency in the campers through music, arts and crafts, exercise, stress-reducing techniques, puppet shows, and reading and sharing time.
Lisa Barnes, LSM/NJ’s director of community partnering and advocacy as well as the disaster response coordinator, contacted Camp Noah facilitators in Minnesota in the weeks following the hurricane. “Camp Noah addresses the emotional and spiritual needs of children who feel vulnerable after suffering disaster-related trauma and loss,” says Ms. Barnes. “We knew that many New Jersey children who lost their homes and possessions would benefit from this wonderful program, and LSM/NJ made it a priority to provide funding for two camp locations.”
Shared Experiences Offer Comfort
Thanks to the assistance and coordination from two host churches, Zion Lutheran Church in Barnegat Light and Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church in Toms River, children affected were identified and enrolled. Campers spent each day doing fun activities and enjoying meals with multi-generational team leaders, including mental health professionals, who guided the children in discussing and processing their personal disaster experiences. Every morning, ‘Noah’ (a volunteer portraying the character of Noah) greeted campers and shared more of his story, explaining how he and his family prepared for and survived the storm by building an ark and gathering the animals. Although they were frightened, ‘Noah’ explained, they helped each other and learned many lessons as the waters receded and the sun returned.
The campers—divided by grade levels into animal-themed groups—made new friends, put frightening memories to rest, and grew more confident about the future. By the end of the week, each camper received a beautiful handmade quilt, a framed group picture, and a preparedness backpack filled with items such as a flashlight, emergency contact list, first aid kit, toothbrush and toothpaste, pen, whistle, deck of cards, etc. They also left with a better sense of self and the wise words of Noah’s in their head: “When a storm comes, I am not scared. Want to know why? Because I’m prepared!”
Volunteers Bring Camp Noah to Life
The Camp Noah program relies on volunteers and supportive communities and congregations. After being trained, teachers devote a week of their time to travel around the country and bring this program directly into areas that need it. Once they arrive, they rely on congregations such as Zion Lutheran and Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox to offer meals, support, and housing.
Ms. Barnes has nothing but praise for all involved: “We know how much thought, time, and effort go into making Camp Noah a success and, like the campers and their parents, we are quite grateful. LSM/NJ is looking forward to sponsoring more Camp Noah programs in the coming years.”